Before the Tokyo Olympics, watch these 5 revealing movies established at the 1964 games


Like many Hollywood blockbusters delayed by pandemic, the Tokyo Olympics open this week with the expectation of greatly diminished results.

Delayed for any year by the COVID-19 outbreak but still bearing the tag Tokyo 2020 — exactly how else will they sell all that merchandise? — the particular Games of the XXXII Olympiad face unprecedented challenges along with athletes dropping out after testing beneficial for the particular coronavirus, no fans allowed to attend , residents exacerbated that their calls to cancel the games were dismissed and even the starting ceremony the composer forced to step down after past lovato behavior surfaced.

But when it comes to waiting, the town had a much longer haul the last time it hosted the particular games in 1964. Tokyo had been granted the right to host the 1940 Olympics but forfeited what could have been its first video games after Japan invaded The far east in 1937 — the event was eventually canceled entirely due to World War II. In 1959, following the devastation of the war and a long recovery, Tokyo was given a second chance to function as the first Asian host town when it was awarded the particular 1964 games.


Within five films set throughout the Games of the XVIII Olympiad, we can gain insights in to the host nation and its people, as well as the athletes and vistors who experienced the event. The particular films, released over the past 57 years, include a much-heralded documentary by one of Japan’s foremost directors, a largely neglected crime melodrama, a romantic comedy that marked a Fantastic Age star’s swan music, an anime film from one of the Japan’s most famous studios and a brand-new documentary that looks back on an astonishing group of women.

Closeup of a runner with a blurry background

Marathon champion Abebe Bikila in the documentary “Tokyo Olympiad. ”

(Criterion Collection)

Pathbreaking documentary

“Tokyo Olympiad” (1965), the official documentary commissioned by the organizing committee and the Japanese government, opens using the words, “The Olympics really are a symbol of human hope. ” This is followed by an impossibly bright sun towards a red sky, and then a wrecking ball, demolishing old buildings in expectation of the games and Japan’s future.

Focused by Kon Ichikawa, who will be placed by some critics on the highest echelon of Japanese cinema, the movie offers a human-scale portrait from the games, an artist’s interpretation of the athletes and spectators. It is part of the Criterion Collection’s archival restoration project, “100 Years of Olympic Films: 1912–2012, ” currently streaming on the Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Although now considered one of the great sports films of all time, the organizing committee did not take Ichikawa’s original, nearly three-hours-long submission, which dispensed with many traditional tropes of the type. Expecting an exaltation of victors and an aggrandizement of the host country’s preparations and successes, the committee requested that Ichikawa cut the film to the important elements. That 93-minute version was released in the U. T., but Ichikawa’s vision persisted and the longer cut was critically acclaimed and received two BAFTA awards.

Ichikawa utilized the various tools of his craft — multiple cameras, slow-motion, nevertheless photography, state-of-art technology and a phalanx of editors — to view the athletic competition as an art form. An varied use of music, featuring Toshirô Mayuzumi’s score, allowed the particular filmmaker to constantly shift gears, moving fluidly between expressionistic and impressionistic forms.

On the track, “Tokyo Olympiad” grants time to both the communal celebration of victory and the quiet solitude of defeat. It captures the explosiveness of long term Dallas Cowboys star Greg Hayes in winning the particular 100 meters, the incredible come-from-behind victory by American Billy Mills in the ten, 000 meters as well as the dissatisfaction of Japan’s Ikuko Yoda, who finished fifth within the women’s 80-meters hurdles. “She did her best, ” says the stoic broadcaster.

The film’s one off-the-field, up-close-and-personal family portrait is of 800-meter runner Ahmed Issa, representing the African nation of Chad in the first Olympics. The cameras follow Issa as he teaches, roams the Olympic Village and visits Tokyo before being eliminated in the 2nd round of his event, a tiny window into the actual games are like for the majority of the athletes.


Gymnastics are given a balletic treatment, the panorama of twisting, turning bodies in motion, whilst swimming stars such as Put on Schollander of the U. S. and Australia’s Dawn Fraser are lit like Greek gods as they launch on their own from their starting blocks toward Olympic gold.

Less concerned with presenting results than uncovering the grace, power and skill of the athletes, Ichikawa takes a kaleidoscopic approach, grouping similar sports such as struggling, boxing and fencing, or canoeing, rowing and yachting in variably styled, occasionally abstract montages.

Japan’s success in judo, winning three weight classes, is undercut when Anton Geesink of the Netherlands beats the host country’s Akio Kaminaga in the open division. Ichikawa immediately follows that loss with the games’ other first sport, volleyball, where the top notch Japanese women’s team scores a straight-sets, if hard-fought, win over the Soviet Union, a moment we will revisit over 50 years later in another documentary.

“Olympiad” ventures out into metropolitan Tokyo when the athletes hit the streets in the cycling road race in Hachiōji, the particular 50-kilometer race walk (Ichikawa comically focuses on the ramblers waddling lower torsos) and the men’s marathon (it will be 20 years before women were allowed to compete at that most romantic and grueling associated with distances), both passing with the city of Fuchū.

As the great Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila, which famously traversed the roads of Rome barefoot to claim the gold medal four years earlier, defends his marathon title (this time wearing Pumas), the camera lingers on brand new construction, something to replace what that earlier wrecking golf ball had erased. Japan’s sports athletes get a final spotlight as Kōkichi Tsuburaya, though outkicked by Great Britain’s Basil Heatley in the final 200 meters for second location, wins the bronze.


Exuberance and the film’s only purely sentimental moment happen during the closing ceremonies, for the announcer modestly boasts they are “the most exciting in Olympic history” as “Auld Lang Syne” plays the athletes off the world stage.

Olympics noir

In “Escape From Japan, ” all of us get a cynical view from the Olympics from the demimonde. Written and directed by Kijū Yoshida (also known as Yoshishige Yoshida), his last movie before departing the Shochiku studio to work independently, this particular B-movie thriller was released 8 weeks prior to the opening of the 1964 games to capitalize around the fervor surrounding them.

Yasushi Suzuki stars as Tatsuo, the frenetic jazz club gopher with dreams of being a singer in the U. S. This individual gets hoodwinked by heroin-addicted drummer Takashi (Kyosuke Machida) into participating in a heist of a Turkish bath. When the job goes awry as well as a cop is killed, Tatsuo attempts to flee the country with the help of Yasue (Miyuki Kuwano), a disillusioned bathhouse worker equally deceived by Takashi.


Never released in the U. S. (an intrepid cinephile may be able to find it upon DVD), it’s a fairly underwhelming noir steeped in paranoia and claustrophobia, primarily of interest because of the setting. Early within the film, when Tatsuo visits a neighbor, he sees she’s redecorated. “The Olympics are soon, ” the girl replies. “I want to make sure you the tourists. I should be an ambassador of attraction! ” That Yoshida puts these words in the mouth of a prostitute speaks volumes about the filmmaker’s opinion associated with his country’s push in order to ingratiate the west.

Later, as the regulators close in on Tatsuo, with his hopes of escape fading and his American wonderland collapsing, he stumbles in to the Olympic torch relay. The particular film shifts to tragic farce, the big international occasion merely an absurd vision obscuring the country’s actual problems.

A black-and-white picture of a man, left, in an USA running uniform and a man in all-white gym clothes

Jim Hutton, left, and Cary Give in the movie “Walk, Do not Run. ”

(© 1966, renewed 1994 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures. )

Cary Grant’s farewell

Two years after the Olympics came, the Columbia Pictures romantic comedy “Walk, Do not Run, ” starring Cary Grant , Samantha Eggar and Rick Hutton (available for leasing on most digital platforms). A remake of the 1943 Jean Arthur-Joel McCrea-Charles Coburn romp “The More the Merrier” and written by Sol Saks, it’s notable for being the ultimate feature film for each Grant and veteran director Charles Walters (“Lili, ” “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”) with a score by none other than Quincy Jones.


Reset in Tokyo during the height of the Olympic housing crisis, “Walk” turns on career young lady Christine Easton (Eggar) reluctantly subletting half of her ripped to Grant’s British industrialist, Sir William Rutland, who have in turn sublets half of his half to Steve Davis (Hutton), an American athlete-architect exactly who won’t reveal which event he is competing in. Passionate entanglement ensues with a youthful, pre-Sulu George Takei playing a police captain intent on untangling an watching operation that exists entirely in the overheated imagination of a gullible KGB agent.

“Walk” provides a light-weight Western perspective on The japanese, reinforcing the idea of the nation as an emerging economic force — Rutland is there to buy transistors for his factory in the U. K. — as well as the obliging nature of the people. Though an early scene in the hotel where Rutland is here two days early to find there are no rooms available appears to mock the hosts’ subservience, the Japanese characters are generally pictured as more capable and understanding than their frivolous site visitors.

An animated still of teenage boy and girl on a bike

Shun and Umi in the animated movie “From Up on Poppy Hill. ”

(Studio Ghibli/GKids)

Studio Ghibli games

The wrecking ball of “Tokyo Olympiad” makes an indirect appearance in the 2011 Recording studio Ghibli anime “From Up on Poppy Hill” (streaming upon HBO Max in subtitled Japanese- and English-language versions), based on a manga of the same name. Directed simply by Gorō Miyazaki , scripted by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, the romantic drama describes a group of high school kids trying to save a beloved construction from demolition in 1963 Yokohama.

Advertising campaign

Umi and Shun are serious-minded teenagers with a star-crossed attraction as they rally their classmates in order to renovate an old building the school’s male students make use of as a clubhouse and convince the board of training not to tear it down. The impassioned student arguments leading up to the renovation reveal the divided sentiment of the Japanese people prior to the games. As political forces pressed to embrace modernization plus bury the past, a large conditional believed in maintaining a connection for their ancestors and history.

A sequence late within the film where Umi, Avoid and another student take a train into Tokyo to meet with the school board chairman offers a vivid, animated look at of the city, highlighting some of the same landmarks seen in the particular live action films. Large posters promoting the Olympics and a metropolis in transition belie the inevitability from the change, while the film keeps its nostalgia-soaked vision from the past.

A woman volleyball player soars above the net to spike a ball in the documentary "The Witches of the Orient."

A Western volleyball player spikes the ball against the Soviet Marriage in the documentary “The Witches of the Orient. ”


Underestimated women

The 2021 documentary “The Witches from the Orient, ” playing the Laemmle Royal through July 22 plus Laemmle Virtual Cinema till July 29, is a family portrait of the early 1960s Japanese women’s volleyball team as well as dominance of the sport. Such as Ichikawa, French director Julian Faraut eschews sports documented cliches in favor of a more fresh treatment, deploying audio interviews with the surviving members who are now in their late 70s, accompanied by contemporary footage, 16-mm film of practice sessions and even anime to create a vivid contrast of their lives today and their experiences 6 decades earlier.


The particular “Witches” nickname was termed by Soviet journalists after the group seemingly appeared out of nowhere with unworldly skills. In reality, Kinuko Tanida, Yoshiko Matsumura, Katsumi Matsumura, Yoko Shinozaki and their teammates were simply hard-working textile manufacturing plant employees who emerged since Japan’s national team underneath the fierce direction of trainer Hirofumi Daimatsu, an army experienced. Many critics have known as his tactics abusive, however the women themselves credit the courses for their achievements and producing their later lives easier by comparison.

Since the film builds to the 1964 Olympic final showdown with all the Soviet Union, it determines the importance of the outcome to The japanese and the pressure the women felt to succeed — to the point where they contemplated what nation they might move to if they dropped. With its uniquely long-term perspective, the film offers an uncommon dive into the psyches plus memories of elite sportsmen during perhaps the most extreme period of their lives .

While the 1964 games were not without controversy, it’s hard to deny that the organizers achieved their particular goal of reintroducing The japanese to the world as a modern, peaceful nation and help set the path for remarkable economic growth. It will be years before we know how many movies the Games of the XXXII Olympiad may inspire, yet let’s hope that they are this particular eclectic and not of the true-life disaster genre.